In recent weeks, the market for former Phillies set-up man Ryan Madson had dwindled considerably. Earlier in the offseason, Madson looked like he might be the first major free agent signing of the offseason, when the Phillies appeared to offer him a 4 year, $44 million deal. However, that deal was apparently vetoed by some higher-up in the Phillies organization, although they then went ahead signed Papelbon instead, to an even larger (4/$50 million) contract.
Since then, however, teams looking for closers have filled that spot with other, less expensive options. The Marlins brought in Heath Bell, the Rangers brought in Joe Nathan to replace rotation-bound Neftali Feliz, and then just recently, the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey. Although demand has thus fallen off considerably, there are still some teams with interest in a closer, such as the Angels, the Reds, and now the Rangers. As a result, it looks as though Scott Boras is looking to repeat the 3 year, $35 million contract he landed for Rafael Soriano very late in the last offseason.
Of course, figuring out exactly who is in on Madson is difficult. Although the Rangers are apparently “checking in”, obviously discussions with Madson are complicated by the negotiations with NPB import Yu Darvish. I would guess that Boras would keep other suitors occupied until the Rangers are free to talk to him, in order to expand the market for his client. The Angels have been cited as being after Madson for the entire offseason, but recently their GM Jerry DiPoto claimed that it was “very, very unlikely” that they sign him, and added that he felt the Angels had reached their payroll limit. Of course, DiPoto has at various times this offseason claimed that it was unlikely they sign Pujols, and that the Angels were trying to cut payroll from last seasons $140 million. Evidently, he is playing his cards very close to his vest. Similarly, the Jays were cited as being in on Madson ealier this offseason, but have since signed Darren Oliver. The Jays don’t lack funds, as their nearly $50 million bid for Darvish confirms, but high-priced free agents are not GM Alex Anthopolous’s style: Darren Oliver’s $4 million contract is actually their largest free agent expenditure during his reign. Finally, the Reds have not talked to Scott Boras about Ryan Madson; however, they have submitted an offer to the other closer on the free agent market, Francisco Cordero. If that falls through, they could turn their sights on Madson.
Without a doubt, Madson is worth the attention. Over the last four seasons, Madson has been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball, producing roughly 1.4 WAR per season. These last two seasons have been his best skill-wise, culminating in his most valuable yet in 2011, posting a 2.25 FIP, a 9.20 k/9, and a 2.37 BB/9. However, his HR/FB was roughly half his career rate, suggesting Madson was performing at his usual standards but simply got lucky with the long ball. Playing with the Phillies, Ryan Madson has no doubt benefited from some good defense, but certainly no better than the Rangers infield. At first blush it seems odd that the Phillies would have elected to sign Papelbon over their own guy Madson, possibly suggesting there is some inside information they have that would lead them to believe Madson is not as effective as the market would think going forward. However, the Phillies GM, at any rate, was ready to commit significant dollars to Madson (although Ryan Howard springs to mind here), and Papelbon is coming off a career year, and in the recent past has generally been more effective than Madson.
While it is clear Madson is an excellent reliever, it is less clear how he would fit into the Rangers plans for the bullpen. The dilemma here is the same when considering the acquisition of Andrew Bailey: the Rangers already have Joe Nathan to close, Mike Adams to set up, Ogando or Harrison sharing duties with Uehara for the 7th, and Mark Lowe who also has late-inning experience. Part of the thinking here might be that Nathan and Adams had recent surgery, and might be more vulnerable to injury throughout the season. Additionally, the Rangers front office is abundantly aware of the difference that an elite bullpen can make. After July 31st trade deadline, which saw the addition of Uehara and Adams, the Rangers were 35-18 (.660), compared to 61-48 (.560) before the trades.
Without a clearer picture of the Rangers finances, it is difficult to say if acquiring Madson is a good decision. While Ken Rosenthal reported the Rangers were experiencing “cash flow difficulties” due to the Greenberg payout and stadium renovation, the Rangers did just pony up $51 million upfront for an unproven pitcher, while pursuing extensions with key players such as Derek Holland and Ian Kinsler. If the front office is comfortable dropping $30 million or more on Ryan Madson, then I am certain Ron Washington can find an effective way to use him.